Beach erosion will make Southern California coastal living much more expensive by 2050, USC study predicts

Credit: Gustavo Zambelli/Unsplash.

A new study from the University of Southern California (USC) warns that living along the coast in Southern California will become five times more expensive by 2050 due to beach erosion.

Rising sea levels and urban development are speeding up this erosion, which will have serious economic effects on the region.

The study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, reveals that the cost of maintaining Southern California’s beaches will surge as erosion worsens.

To keep the beaches in good shape, more frequent and expensive beach nourishment projects will be needed, driving up the cost of coastal living.

“Our study shows clear evidence of the rapid breakdown of Southern California’s coastal landscapes,” said Essam Heggy, a geoscientist at USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the lead author of the study.

“The problems in Southern California reflect a global threat to coastal communities. The environmental and economic impacts of coastal erosion are far-reaching and require collaborative solutions.”

To forecast future changes, the researchers examined the Gulf of Santa Catalina, a stretch of coastline that runs from Los Angeles County to the northern tip of Baja California in Mexico.

Using satellite images and advanced algorithms, they analyzed how the coastline is moving and predicted future erosion trends.

The study predicts that erosion rates will triple by 2050, going from an average of 1.45 meters per year to 3.18 meters by 2100.

As a result, the amount of sand needed for beach nourishment could triple by 2050, with costs rising fivefold due to higher global sand prices. This will add economic and logistical challenges for coastal communities.

Beach nourishment involves adding sand to an eroded beach to rebuild it and create a wider barrier against waves and storms. “Our research suggests that coastal problems often start inland because the rapid growth of cities along the coast disrupts the natural supply of sediment to the beaches,” Heggy explained.

“As our beaches shrink, the cost of maintaining them will rise. Innovative solutions are essential for securing a sustainable future for our shores and local economies.”

Coastal cities in Southern California and North Africa’s Mediterranean coast face similar challenges: a semi-arid climate year-round and the threats of rising sea levels and eroding shorelines.

The study also focused on Corona del Mar in Orange County, California, and Hammamet North Beach in Tunisia to highlight these global challenges.

The findings showed that while beach nourishment can temporarily fight erosion, it poses significant challenges, especially for developing countries.

The high cost of the right sand and the complexity of its application are major hurdles. More frequent nourishment projects due to worsening erosion strain limited budgets and lead to unexpected expenses.

Overall, the study emphasizes the need for global, interdisciplinary solutions to address the growing problem of coastal erosion.